Category Archives: Books

ALA Youth Media Awards

I’m here in Denver, where the ALA Youth Media Awards were announced this morning. Along with adding a few new titles to my hold list (WE ARE OKAY and HELLO, UNIVERSE) I was pleased to see a few of my favorite books receiving awards! Specifically PIECING ME TOGETHER, which won both the Coretta Scott King award and a Newbery Honor. It’s a character-driven novel after my own heart. Add it to your reading lists!

Other than that, there’s not much to update in… uh, two years. I still work as a comic editor, and I’m still working on PAPER MOON (and another book that is also exciting and wonderful). Since I’ve been in Denver I’ve had to listen to white noise playlists to fall asleep, and I hope that when I return home to Oregon the sleep will come easier. I’m pretty sure I’m just not used to sleeping all alone somewhere. And I’m also not used to sleeping with the high whine of a heater/air conditioner unit.

Also, a quick brag: I grabbed like, five pairs of PATINA shoelaces at ALA and I’m going to re-lace all of my shoes. ALL OF MY SHOES.

Oh, and I did a short story in an Anthology last year! So I should update my books section with that. Look, I’ve been busy, okay? Don’t shame meeeeeeee

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A New Rating System

Not that I rate books publicly, but I kinda rate them in my head when I’m finished. I’ve been thinking about my rating system and decided to overhaul it a bit:

ONE STAR: I didn’t finish the book for whatever reason. Does not apply to books I fully intend to finish, like THE MONSTRUMOLOGIST BOOK 2. I swear I’ll finish you someday! (It’s been like two years…) This is more for books I didn’t finish because I found them boring, or I couldn’t connect with any characters, or any other arbitrary reason that has more to do with my personal taste than the quality of the writing sometimes. ON THE ROAD was a one-star book for me.

TWO STARS: I finished the book but I didn’t like it. A WRINKLE IN TIME was a two-star book for me. Most people disagree, and I agree with them that maybe there is something wrong with me that makes me not like this book. Anyway, if I finished the book, something compelled me to do it. Something drove me to finish it. Characters, motivation, writing. SOMETHING. So it gets two stars.

THREE STARS: I finished it and liked it alright. Not earth-shattering, I definitely don’t regret reading it. MATILDA was a three-star book for me, probably because I saw the movie first and the movie is FOUR STARS NO QUESTION and the book doesn’t have Danny DeVito or Mara Wilson.

FOUR STARS: I finished the book and WOW, it was really great. Superb writing. Compelling. Wonderful. A book that makes me laugh usually gets four stars automatically. For whatever reason, it’s not on my list of favorite books ever, but I do love it. MRS. FRISBY AND THE RATS OF N.I.M.H. was a four-star book for me.

FIVE STARS: It made me cry AND it made me laugh. (Both are usually required.) It made me feel strong emotions. I can’t stop thinking about the book after I read it. I have to buy it and put it on the bookcase where I keep all my other favorite books. I would buy out this book’s merchandise. I would maybe get a quote from this book OR THE BOOK’S COVER tattooed on my body. THE MURDER OF BINDY MACKENZIE was a five-star book for me. (I could totally get “Bindy Mackenzie talks like a horse” tattooed on me FOR SURE)

All my examples, except the five-star one, are from authors who are now dead, so they can’t get offended. That said, feel free to tell me how wrong I am. I AM VERY USED TO IT.

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SYNC Audiobooks!

I’m revising my book (see previous post) but I’m updating for a different reason. I think I’m gonna try and do the SYNC Audiobook Summer thing – it’s a program that offers free audiobook downloads of YA books every week (see HERE). Some I won’t listen to because of time (mostly the adult books that are sometimes paired with the YA books), and there are some books I’ve already read (WORDS IN THE DUST, HOW IT WENT DOWN, GRASSHOPPER JUNGLE, ON THE JELLICOE ROAD, THINGS FALL APART, and BONE GAP). Still, it should be fun. I’ve already listened to last week’s book, VIVIAN APPLE AT THE END OF THE WORLD, and just started this week’s book, THE SIN EATER’S DAUGHTER.

My audiobook listening has really increased lately! Some recent faves: BAD FEMINIST, DUMPLIN’, TINY PRETTY THINGS, THE MAGNIFICENT MYA TIBBS: SPIRIT WEEK SHOWDOWN, and PAX. Mmmmm, audiobooks.

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Robin’s Favorite Audiobooks of 2015

I’ve started listening to audiobooks since I ride my bike to work and they’re a nice (and not loud, so I can still hear the outside world) way to pass the commute. Also, I joined a gym, so I can knock out even more audiobooks than I used to. Here are my favorites of 2015 (not necessarily published in 2015 though):


1. THE COST OF ALL THINGS by Maggie Lehrman, read by Sharmila Devar, Shannon McManus, Jesse Bernstein, and Nicholas Dressel

The cost of all things

I think I would have loved this book just as much had I read it instead of listening to it, but listening to it did give me an appreciation of the language Lehrman uses. Sometimes listening to audiobooks is difficult because you notice things you wouldn’t notice in print. Repetitive sentence structure, or five bazillion instances of “said” that just grate. However, THE COST OF ALL THINGS didn’t have any of those problems. I loved the words as much as I loved the whole novel, which follows a girl who pays a large sum of money for a spell to forget her dead boyfriend. I won’t go into further detail, because it’s nice to listen to the novel just unfold.

Voice cast also did a great job. Another thing that will kill an audiobook for me is the narrator. There are four here, though, and they’re all good, and they all seem to get their characters.


2. FUZZY MUD by Louis Sachar, read by Kathleen McInerney

Fuzzy Mud

Sachar is one of my favorite authors and I think his writing style translates well to audiobook. McInerney does a really great job here with the cast of fifth- and seventh-graders.


3. SIMON VS THE HOMO SAPIENS AGENDA by Becky Albertalli, read by Michael Crouch

Simon vs the homo sapiens agenda

Funny, heartfelt, and a really good narrator.


4. FIVE, SIX, SEVEN, NATE! by Tim Federle, read by the author

Five Six Seven Nate

I avoided this book for a while, because I’d really liked BETTER NATE THAN EVER and I was afraid the sequel wouldn’t hold up, BUT I WAS WRONG


5. MASTERPIECE by Elise Broach, read by Jeremy Davidson


Another book I avoided for far too long. I remember a lot of kids in one of my after-school programs reading this when it came out, so it’s always been in the back of my mind. However, I like to read physical books if they have illustrations, so I was holding off. I really shouldn’t do that! But I like looking at illustrations and they’re never included with my downloadable audiobooks.


6. KINDA LIKE BROTHERS by Coe Booth, read by John Clarence Stewart

Kinda Like Brothers

This one had maybe my favorite narrator of the year. He knew just where to put the emphasis, and even though his voice was clearly an adult man’s, he got the intonation and cadence of a preteen boy down PERFECTLY. I laughed out loud many times while listening.


7. IF I EVER GET OUT OF HERE by Eric Gansworth, read by the author

If I ever Get out of here

I’m gaining an appreciation of authors reading their own audiobooks. It makes sense, they wrote it, so they’ve got the voice in their head already. Still, I know not everyone is the best reader. But Eric Gansworth is.

Coming up next: My favorite Graphic Novels of 2015!

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Oregon Book Awards

The Oregon Book Award finalists have been announced, and guess what? HOPE IS A FERRIS WHEEL is one of them! Below are all the nominees for both the children’s and young adult categories, from the Literary Arts website. I’m very pleased to be in this company!

Judge: Lesléa Newman

Kim T. Griswell of Ashland, Rufus Goes to School (Sterling Children’s Books)
Susan Hill Long of Portland, Whistle in the Dark (Holiday House)
H. Joseph Hopkins of Portland, The Tree Lady (Beach Lane Books)
Deborah Hopkinson of West Linn, The Great Trouble: A Mystery of London, The Blue Death, and a Boy Called Eel(Alfred A. Knopf)
Elizabeth Rusch of Portland, Electrical Wizard: How Nikola Tesla Lit Up the World
(Candlewick Press)

Judge: Mitali Perkins

April Henry of Portland, The Body In the Woods (Henry Holt)
Robin Herrera of Portland, Hope is a Ferris Wheel (Amulet Books)
Lisa Schroeder of Beaverton, The Bridge From Me To You (Scholastic)
Christina Struyk-Bonn of Portland, Whisper (Orca Book Publishers)


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Heavenly Donuts!

I think I’ve found my reading groove again. I started downloading audio books (from my library, legally!) and listening to them as I ride my bike to and from work every day. Last week I got through THE DREAMER by Pam Muñoz Ryan and BETTER NATE THAN EVER by Tim Federle. This week it’s THE GREAT GILLY HOPKINS, which I read in elementary school and loved but don’t remember enough about it to consider it read.

Aside from that, I’ve been reading while eating breakfast and dinner as well, so I was able to finish Varian Johnson’s THE GREAT GREENE HEIST last week as well. FOUR BOOKS! Anyway, we’ll see how that goes.

In the meantime, I just wanted to share this picture.

photo (6)

I think there are three Heavenly Donuts locations in Portland, and here is one of them. The “Heavenly donuts!” catchphrase Star and her family use was a last minute addition, stemming partly from my love of slang and partly from my unease with making my characters say “Oh my God!” (Long story short: I was raised as a Jehovah’s Witness.) I needed an alternative, and this seemed to fit perfectly.

The One Four MG group did a picture post recently, and while I was not together enough to get a photo in, I would have submitted this one if I’d had it. But hey, it should be shared SOMEWHERE.

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New Events!

I’ve added an event (and hints of events) on my EVENTS page! I’ll be doing quite a bit of traveling in the fall. Only to Oregon and Idaho, but still!

In the meantime, I’m hard at work finishing up that YA I’ve mentioned a few times. I’d like to finish it by the end of August, so posts may be smaller and more sporadic.

I also went to San Diego Comic Con this year, which was a lot of fun. Met with a lot of great people, ate a lot of great food, saw a lot of great costumes, and sold a lot of great books. In fact, you should totally pick them up if you’re into comics at all:


I WAS THE CAT by Paul Tobin, illus. Benjamin Dewey – ever wonder if your cat is actually plotting something sinister while it sits there and licks its paws? This book is for you. (It’s even for you if you don’t LIKE cats.)


ARCHER COE & THE THOUSAND NATURAL SHOCKS by Jamie S. Rich, illus. by Dan Christensen – I was telling people at San Diego that this book is like all the best parts of THE PRESTIGE. Great mystery paired with fantastic art, this book tells the story of Archer Coe, The Mind’s Arrow, a hypnotist who may be losing his mind.


THE BUNKER by Joshua Hale Fialkov, illus. by Joe Infurnari – I’m so proud of this book. It looks sharp, the story keeps you guessing, and I love how deliciously flawed every character is. The art takes this book to a whole new level – Infurnari’s subtle lines and color choices tell the story so perfectly. Great for time travel enthusiasts.


LETTER 44 VOLUME 1 by Charles Soule, illus. by Alberto Jiménez Alburquerque, colored by Guy Major and Dan Jackson – imagine if there was actually a conspiracy so large that only the United States President and a handful of people knew about it. Such is the premise in LETTER 44. I read the first issue script over a year ago, and when I finished, I emailed Jill, the book’s original editor, and demanded all the rest of the scripts. This is an intricately-plotted story, drawn with amazing detail.

Of course, these are all adult-ish books, so I wouldn’t read these unless you’re at least thirteen. Okay, time to go write. Happy Friday!

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BEA 2014

I am not at BEA this weekend.

But on the off-chance that YOU are, here are some things to pick up!

Evil Librarian jacket

EVIL LIBRARIAN by my friend Mikki Knudsen. At the Candlewick Booth! (2857)


HOOK’S REVENGE by my friend Heidi Schulz! At the Disney/Hyperion booth! (Don’t know which number!)

And if you go by the Abrams/Amulet booth, they may have some HOPE IS A FERRIS WHEEL poetry club guides. I haven’t confirmed this with anyone, though. They could be there, but if not, you should pick up OTHERBOUND by Corinne Duyvis or STEERING TOWARD NORMAL by Rebecca Petruck. And they will probably have ARCs of…


…by another one of my Amulet pub-sisters, Kate Boorman!



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Exciting Things: Week of 5/12

Lots of EXCITEMENT this week!

1. STEERING TOWARD NORMAL by my pub sister, Rebecca Petruck, is out now! This book is hilarious and heartfelt – my favorite combination. EXCITEMENT!


2. Another debut is out this week as well: Kate Hannigan’s CUPCAKE COUSINS! I am ridiculously proud of this thing I made for it:

cupcake cousins


3. My local library is the best library in the nation, I’m pretty sure. Not only did they host a talk with Sharon M. Draper yesterday (which was fantastic), they’re also giving out personalized reading lists to card-holders. Of course I signed up for one. I’ll let you know how it turned out! Multnomah County Library can’t be beat! EXCITEMENT!

4. I’m attending my first SCBWI conference this weekend, woo-hoo! I hope to learn some good stuff and get a lot of doodling done. EXCITEMENT!

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Things I’m Excited About This Week

This may become a regular feature. But here are some things I’m excited about this week! (And it’s only Wednesday!)

FIRST, Louis Sachar is writing another book. EXCITEMENT!

Screen Shot 2014-05-06 at 2.30.53 PM

SECOND, Larissa Theule, whose work I was lucky enough to read at Vermont College, posted the cover of her new book, FAT & BONES. EXCITEMENT!


THIRD, Marie Lu dropped some info about a LEGEND graphic novel. EXCITEMENT!

Screen Shot 2014-05-07 at 5.15.21 PM

FOURTH is, of course, the Kidlit Trivia I’m co-hosting at Green Bean books in Portland this Saturday. (See previous post for pertinent information.)


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Under the Covers…

Something cool I didn’t notice until it was pointed out to me.


Hope Jacket

This is my book with its jacket on.


Hope Under

This is my book with its jacket REMOVED!

That there is a foil stamp! And boy, is it shiny! I think I actually alluded to this in a previous post, but now I have photographic evidence for you. I went ahead and pulled lots of other books off my shelf and looked under their jackets as well. You can see some photos I took of those books HERE (on my tumblr).

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March Books!

Getting back into the swing of things! Hopefully, anyway.

Sadly, I did not read very many books in March! Mostly due to how hectic launch month turned out to be. But I wanted to comment briefly on what I did manage to read.

17341550Trust Me, I’m Lying by Mary Elizabeth Summer

I’ve been excited to read this book ever since I got the chance to meet Mary Elizabeth last year. (So, a while.) There are four debut 2014 authors from Oregon that I know of, and (since I just finished Hook’s Revenge by Heidi Schulz) I’ve now read all four! Mary Elizabeth’s debut is exciting and page-turning, with a knock-out voice and a great use of language. (I love it when books are seeped in language relating to the main character’s world. In this case, cons!)


Sizzle by Lee McClain10564957

Read for the 2014 Latin@s in Kidlit Challenge! This was one of those books I kept yelling at. You know, where some of the characters are so mean and despicable to the main character that you just want to reach your hands through the pages and strangle them?



Strange Sweet Song by Adi Rule

Adi was a classmate of mine at VCFA, so I’ve been a fan of her writing for a long time. I knew I would love Strange Sweet Song before I even started reading it, but something about the cover kept me from picking it up right away. There are a lot of covers with girls in dresses on them, so I had to fight against what my brain was trying to tell me, which was that this book would be just like the others. Cover judgement can be terrible. Anyway, I’m only saying this because I don’t want anyone else to fall into the same trap I did. Adi’s book is gorgeously written, fantastically realized, and positively infectious. Honestly, the less you know about it going in, the better. Just pick it up, all right? (It’s out now! Because Adi and I shared a book birthday.)

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Latin@s in Kid Lit Challenge for February: Yaqui Delgado Wants to Kick Your Ass

Once again, I’m posing a bit late for my Latin@s in Kidlit Challenge. Turns out the beginning of the year is TERRIBLE when your book launches in March. (LESS THAN A WEEK! GADS!) But I should be better this month! You know, after all the launch stuff.

I’m going to preface this by saying this book made me WEEP. Not just like, made my eyes itch for a little bit. I had tears running down my face. And no one even dies!

Okay. You may have heard of this book already, because it won a Pura Belpré medal, and they don’t just hand those out to everyone. This book has been on my radar for well over a year, but it wasn’t until A) the ALA awards happened, and B) I read The Girl Who Could Silence the Wind last month that I really, really wanted to read it. I stated somewhere (twitter?) that Meg Medina was on my watchlist, and this book just solidified that.

About the book: Piddy Sanchez (Medina once again showing her ability to come up with great names) doesn’t know who Yaqui Delgado is, but that changes when a girl named Vanessa tells her that Yaqui wants to beat her up. At first, Piddy’s not worried. After all, she did nothing to Yaqui, so why in the world would she want to kick Piddy’s ass? But it soon becomes clear that Yaqui isn’t backing down. And Piddy, who’s never been the fighting-back type, doesn’t know what to do. Fearful for what Yaqui has in store for her, Piddy loses track of assignments, starts ditching school, and even talks back to her mother.

So, I think the reason I began crying was because Medina really made Piddy’s fear and humiliation real for me. Piddy was so obviously a victim that I truly felt for her.


However, I also felt for Yaqui. I admit that I was a little disappointed when the book didn’t go the way I thought it would, revealing more insight into Yaqui’s character. There’s some insight, but it’s speculation. We never hear from the girl herself. I was also expecting some kind of understanding to happen between Piddy and Yaqui, which maybe would have explained things from Yaqui’s point of view, but that also didn’t happen. This doesn’t detract from the writing or the book in any way, but I’m a big fan of characters and I really wanted to know Yaqui better.

At the end of the book, there’s a sense of closure for Piddy, but there isn’t one for Yaqui. I was left with the impression that Yaqui will stick to her old ways and continue to bully other girls who say or do the wrong thing in front of her (or her boyfriend). And I craved that. Even if it isn’t realistic.

One thing I especially liked, though, was the ending, despite there being no resolution/explanations for Yaqui. I love that Medina had Piddy going to her school’s principal instead of having a Rocky-themed training montage and going after Yaqui in the parking lot. I’ve read quite a few books about bullying, and they often end in violence. It’s not a problem, because that is a realistic way to deal with a bully – to fight back. However, there are kids like Piddy who simply can’t fight back. They aren’t like that, or they just can’t bring themselves to do it. How are they supposed to stop their bullies?

I don’t believe going to an adult or an authority figure always works in the case of bullying, but sometimes it does. Medina did a great job of drawing a parallel between Joey’s abused mother and Piddy. Both were being bullied, and both refused to tell anyone. Piddy refused out of fear, while Mrs. Halper refused out of (it’s implied) love for her abusive husband. I loved that Joey told Piddy, toward the end of the book, that she should run if she needed to.

Sometimes running doesn’t seem like a good option. Running is perceived as cowardly, when in actuality running is a survival technique. When faced with something bigger and stronger than ourselves, does it make sense to stay and fight? I’m really glad this was something Piddy embraced.


Another thing I really liked was how totally Yaqui invaded Piddy’s life. Every problem Piddy had could be traced back to her situation with Yaqui. It was eye-opening, and I’d never thought of bullying that way – as something that can affect the victim so much that their whole personality starts to change. It makes sense, because I believe victims of domestic or child abuse go through the same thing, but it wasn’t until this book that I saw just how much bullying can affect someone.

My hat’s off to Meg Medina. Not only has she written two fabulous books, SHE MADE ME CRY BOTH TIMES. BOTH TIMES!

If you want to take part in the Latin@s in Kid Lit challenge, it’s not too late! Follow the link to sign up!

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January Reads

I’m still hoping to read 100 books this year (aside from graphic novels), but I’m running a tad behind. Here’s what I read in January (in the order I read them):

1. Otherbound by Corinne Duyvis

Corinne is another Amulet debut author and I was really excited to read her book. It has a diverse cast and a really imaginative fantasy setting. Also, Corinne did not disappoint! I loved the writing so much, in fact, that I had to read it slowly. This sounds weird, huh? But I needed to read it slowly to drink in every detail. Highly recommended! This comes out in June.

2. Weedflower by Cynthia Kadohata

A touching middle grade novel about a Japanese family interned in Arizona during World War II. I listened to the audio version of this while I washed dishes. It also includes a diverse cast of both Japanese and Mohave characters, as the land the Japanese-Americans are forced to live on happens to be on a Mohave reservation. I like it when I learn things from books!

3. I Heart Band #2: Friends, Fugues, and Fortune Cookies by Michelle Schusterman

After reading about Holly’s misadventures in I Heart Band #1, I was eager to get my hands on this second volume. I got so into it I burned the rice I was cooking. (Spanish rice, in case you’re wondering, since it’s a lot harder to burn plain old white rice.)

4. The Only Thing Worse Than Witches by Lauren Magaziner

I highly recommend this debut MG if only because after you read it you can go back on the 2014 Mad for Middle Grade posts and understand all of Lauren’s hilarious references to her novel. But seriously, this is a very funny book in the vein of Sideways Stories from Wayside School or the beginnings of every Roald Dahl book. I described it as “hilariously non-sequitur.” If you know any children, this would make a great read-aloud for them.

5. Under the Egg by Laura Marx Fitzgerald

Laura’s imaginative and mysterious debut had me turning pages in a frenzy. I’ve only visited New York twice, but Laura made the city come alive for me in a way I’ve never felt before. Truly remarkable. Also, I loved the main character, Theo, and her voice.

6. The Girl Who Could Silence the Wind by Meg Medina

My review of this is in my previous blog post! So scroll down or hit the previous page link. This was a magnificent book filled with gorgeous setting details and characters I didn’t want to let go of.

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Latinos in Kidlit Challenge for January: The Girl Who Could Silence the Wind by Meg Medina

My first entry for the Latinos in Kidlit Challenge is about Meg Medina’s fabulous The Girl Who Could Silence the Wind. Meg Medina’s name will be familiar to many, as at the ALA awards her YA novel, Yaqui Delgado Wants to Kick Your Ass, won the Pura Belpré award. I’ve had YDWTKYA on my to-read list for a long time, but hold lines at the library were long. So instead, I decided to check out Medina’s debut YA novel.

And I’m really glad I did.

The Girl Who Could Silence the Wind is the story of Sonia Ocampo (GREAT NAME), something of a “miracle worker” in her tiny mountain village of Tres Montes, due to her birth coinciding with the halt of a particularly fierce storm. After a villager asks Sonia to pray for her son, who turns up dead, Sonia realizes that she is no miracle worker, and longs to leave behind the burden of holding the town’s hopes, dreams, and problems. She journeys to the capital, a bustling city where rich families are in constant need of labor, with three other women to be a maid.

This book was simply a joy to read. From the prologue, I was hooked into Sonia’s world, the rich language and the wonderful storytelling. Medina’s story reminded me of many magical realism books I’ve read – she encapsulates the whimsy of the ordinary so very well. In her author biography, Medina said that she was inspired by “old Latino tales – romantic and magical.” That’s exactly the impression I got from the story.


The only thing I was disappointed about was the disappearance of Sonia’s co-workers from the capital after she and Pancho leave to find her brother. I was especially interested to hear from Dalia, since I have a soft spot for hard-edged girls. And I wanted to know that Dalia would be okay after the events at the end of the book. (SO SAD. UGH)

I applaud Medina, though, for weaving such a brutal story and giving it a bittersweet ending. Also, the romance was so well-done. Romance is hard to do well, because you want a kind of slow build, and you want the sense of the characters really yearning for each other. I was beyond invested in Sonia and Pancho’s romance. I would say they’re now one of my favorite YA couples!


Now, here’s hoping I’ll get my hands on Yaqui Delgado, because I have the sneaking suspicion that Meg Medina is going to be one of my favorite authors. If you’re a fan of Jaclyn Moriarty like I am, Medina is an author I think you’ll love as well.


Random things I liked in The Girl Who Could Silence the Wind:

  • The names! And not just of people, but of towns, of places, of objects. The names made the world feel especially thought-out and real.
  • The omniscient narration. It was usually more of a “one chapter in this character’s POV, one chapter in this character’s POV,” but would occasionally switch POV in a single chapter. I think Medina used it really well, and the fact that the prologue was omniscient prepared me for it to show up again.
  • Sonia’s family. Actually, all of the characters in this novel, good or bad, felt real and whole and complete.

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My favorite comics of 2013

This could be the year I read more comics and graphic novels than middle grade and YA. 114 out of the 163 books I read this year were graphic novels. I blame it on my job. Besides, it takes a lot less time for me to read a graphic novel. I can often finish them in one sitting.

Also, I just really like comics.

I had quite a few favorites this year (how couldn’t I?) that I wanted to share here. (Non-Oni Press titles, natch. I’m biased!)



Kimi Ni Todoke by Karuho Shiina

A really sweet shojo manga about creepy outsider Sawako “Sadako” Kuronuma and her quest to make friends, inspired by the popular, gregarious boy in her class who begins talking to her. Sawako’s attempts to be more social can be comedic (like when she doesn’t realize how weird or creepy she’s coming across as to her classmates) and touching (like when she tells off a group of mean girls for spreading rumors about her two best friends). I really love the supporting cast as well, especially Sawako’s two best friends, Yano and Chizu. Probably because they remind me of my own best friend.

I’ve actually started buying volumes of this as they come out, as the series isn’t over yet. Next volume is out this month! AAAAH!

Cross game

Cross Game by Mitsuru Adachi

I read the final volume in January and I cried. Partly because it was really touching, and partly because it’s over. (The first volume ALSO made me cry, by the way.) Comedy, romance, really cool sports sequences – just because I hate sports doesn’t mean I hate comics about sports, after all.

kitchen princess

Kitchen Princess by Miyuki Kobayashi and Natsumi Ando

Another shojo manga, a bit predictable and derivative but still great. It takes the trope of a poor, talented orphan who goes to a boarding school where she is bullied by her rich classmates and gives it new life. Also, it has adorable recipes at the end of every volume! These are available in omnibus form now, and I’m looking forward to buying the whole series once I get another bookshelf.


A Bride’s Story by Kaoru Mori

Kaoru Mori also wrote and illustrated Emma, a manga about a romance between an English maid and a rich bachelor. Mori’s art is so incredibly detailed, I can’t help but wonder how long certain panels take her to draw. She’s amazing. A Bride’s Story takes place in the 19th century in Central Asia (some characters travel around widely), focusing on Amir, a woman in an arranged marriage to 12-year-old Karluk. What I really like about this series, and what I think separates it from a lot of historical fiction with female protagonists, is that Amir does “male” tasks like hunting, and she also does “female” tasks like weaving and cooking, and they’re all treated with equal importance. Amir never bemoans the weaving or the cooking or the housework, and these things are woven into the plot as much as her hunting is. This is another series I’ve begun to buy as volumes become available. (Normally I’d wait until my library gets a copy.)

wandering son

Wandering Son by Shimura Takako

This series is problematic in its very one-sided portrayal of transgender characters, but I also think that portrayal is believable. Shuichi is a fifth-grade girl, assigned male at birth, while Yoshino is a fifth-grade boy, assigned female at birth. These children have a lot to learn about themselves, their gender, and gender in general, which is why I think the portrayal (and their misconceptions) is believable. However, I don’t think any of that is intentional on the author’s part, so it’s still problematic. But I recommend it anyway, not as the end-all be-all transgender story, but as a transgender story, period. (I’d actually recommend it as a coming-of-age story, period, that happens to star transgender characters.)



Hilda and the Midnight Giant by Luke Pearson

Sometimes you read a book from cover to cover in one sitting. You put it down and realize it’s the best book you’ve read since… you can’t even remember what the last book was that was this good.

Anyway, this was that book. Beautiful art, brilliant characterization, compelling plot, SIMPLY AMAZING ALL AROUND.


Broxo by Zack Giallongo

This title had been on my to-read list since it came out, and after I read it, I only had one regret: that I didn’t read it sooner! A beautifully-illustrated story about a girl named Zora and a boy named Broxo, members of different clans, though something unspeakable seems to have happened to Broxo’s clan, and Zora needs to find out what it was.


Saga by Brian K. Vaughan, illustrated by Fiona Staples

This book defies description. Sci-fi/fantasy romance full of action and intrigue. That’s the best way I can think of to describe it. Also: LYING CAT.

captive prince

The Captive Prince by Scott Chantler

I have a confession to make: I was “meh” on the first two volumes of this series. And then I read this, the third volume, which was clear and compelling all the way through. Which made me change my mind about the first two volumes, after I’d gone back and re-read them. Just goes to show you that sometimes your first impressions of books can be wrong, wrong, wrong. (The same thing happened with me and Because of Winn-Dixie.)


Aya: Love in Yop City by Marguerite Abouet, illustrated by Clément Oubrerie

Another favorite series of mine, I eagerly awaited the release of this title. This is an omnibus of three Aya stories, and if you haven’t read any Aya, you should fix that immediately. A really cool comic about life in Cotê d’Ivoire (aka Ivory Coast), Africa. While the comic deals with some heavy issues (unplanned pregnancy, infidelity, attempted rape, sexism), there’s good doses of light-heartedness and comedy to even it out. It’s a view of Africa different from what the media tends to portray. The people of Côte d’Ivoire are modern, nuanced, and downright captivating.

Marguerite Abouet is now writing children’s books as well, and I couldn’t be happier about that. She’s a skilled writer, nailing casual dialogue.


Nothing Can Possibly Go Wrong by Prudence Shen and Faith Erin Hicks

I love this graphic novel because it reminded me of high school. It reminded me of being young and foolish, and not caring enough about consequences unless they specifically affected me. Also, I think Hicks NAILED the comedy in her art.

I’m really looking forward to comics this year. There are going to be a lot of great graphic novels coming out, and I’m looking forward to reading as many of them as I can!


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2013 Book Awards!

Last year on twitter I gave out some silly book awards for my favorite books (Like “Grossest Depiction of a Human Foot” going to The Monstrumologist by Rick Yancey), and I wanted to do the same thing again! Maybe a couple of days late, but oh well.



Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell. From hysterical laughter to uncontrollable sobbing all on the same page! Terrible and wonderful all at the same time.



The Land by Mildred D. Taylor. Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry was like this too, come to think of it. Mildred D. Taylor is just one of those authors who’s gonna make me cry. And laugh, a bit, before dissolving, once again, into tears.



Caminar by Skila Brown. This beautiful verse novel feels more timely than it should.



Living Dead Girl by Elizabeth Scott. Look, there are certain words that are hard to read. It turns out those same words are even harder to hear.



The Very Nearly Honorable League of Pirates: Magic Marks the Spot by Caroline Carlson. So much whimsy! So much fun to read!



Ninth Ward by Jewell Parker Rhodes. Lanesha has a poetic, lyrical voice I couldn’t get enough of.


I Heart Band

I Heart Band by Michelle Schusterman. Made me remember Junior High in a rose-colored light (unlike the usual brown-colored light in which it is usually remembered).



The Color of Rain by Cori McCarthy: Teen Prostitute in Space!


Illusive by Emily Lloyd-Jones: X-Men Con Men (and women)!


By the Grace of Todd by Louise Galveston: Boy creates life through sheer grossness (I think that’s even a line from the book)!



Parched by Melanie Crowder. Less than 23,000 words and every one pulls double duty. Maybe even triple!



Steering Toward Normal by Rebecca Petruck. (Also wins the funniest book of the year award!)



45 Pounds (More or Less) by K. A. Barson. Grandma chain smokes and is a little rough around the edges, but you can’t help but love her.



Liar & Spy by Rebecca Stead. Can I live in a wacky apartment building down the block from a delicious pizza place?



Entangled by Amy Rose Capetta. Every single line you could frame and hang on your wall.



Becoming Naomi León by Pam Muñoz Ryan. (Also wins Worst Parent Award.)

Here’s hoping that 2014 will be filled with just as much excellent reading! It’d be great if I could get back into the habit of reading 100 books a year, but we’ll see how that goes.


Filed under Book Awards, Books

2014 Reading Challenge: Latinos/as in Kid Lit!

Just a quick announcement to say I’ll be doing this challenge for 2014:


Click for more info!

I can’t wait! One of my favorite books last year was Becoming Naomi Léon by Pam Muñoz Ryan and I’m excited to find more Latino/a favorites. Then maybe I can revise that paper I wrote in college about Latinas/os in Children’s Lit and make it somewhat more relevant.

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Interview with Michelle Schusterman, author of I HEART BAND!

Today I am pleased as punch (or a similarly over-sweetened beverage) to host this interview with Michelle Schusterman! Michelle is the author of the upcoming I Heart Band series, which is everything a band geek could want in a middle grade series. Being a former band geek myself (trombone, 8 years), I knew that I simply HAD to interview Michelle about the books.

I Heart Band

First things first: How long were you in band, and what instrument did you play?

I started band in third grade. After an excruciating few weeks torturing squeals out of an innocent clarinet, I switched to percussion. I was in band through middle school and high school, including all the marching band/drumline madness. I ended up majoring in music education in college. That meant more marching band, as well as steel band, Brazilian and Afro-Cuban ensembles, women’s chorus, and methods classes on woodwind, brass, and string instruments, as well as piano. After that, I was a band director for four years.

So the short answer: I’m a lifelong band geek. 🙂

I’ve always wanted to write a book about my experiences taking band from 4th-12th grade, but could never quite think of a good story. Michelle, what was the inspiration for Holly’s story? Did you want to tell a band story, or was it something else?

Fun fact: I HEART BAND is actually a commissioned series! An editor at Penguin had an idea for a story about middle school band geeks and contacted my agent asking if she had any authors who might be a good fit. I had a phone call with the editor (Jordan Hamessley), and we discovered we both grew up in Texas. Jordan played French horn in middle and high school band and was, in her words, “a HUGE band geek.” We ended up chatting about state marching band contest and other competitions we’d both experienced–it was kind of surreal! She wanted a story about a talented French horn player named Holly who gets some competition from a new girl, who’s not only a great horn player too, but becomes close with Holly’s best friend. She gave me some notes, I wrote an outline, and we took it from there!

So that’s why Holly plays French horn! I was wondering, since the French horn is usually not the instrument people think of when they think of band. Usually it’s a trumpet or a flute. How did you pick everyone else’s instruments? Was that another conversation with your editor?

Yup! She’s a mini-Jordan. 🙂 Well, we knew Natasha (Holly’s rival) had to play French horn, too. I’m pretty sure Jordan also wanted Julia, Holly’s best friend, to play clarinet. We tried to have the main cast of characters represent a variety of sections – there’s a candy-loving sax player, a gossipy flautist, and a trumpet player Holly has a pretty big crush on. Her friend Owen is in the French horn section, too – he loves sci-fi, could totally be a professional comic book artist, and is my favorite character. (Don’t tell the others!)

Friends, Fugues, and Fortune Cookies

Ha! Owen is totally my favorite character, too, and I loved how real the other kids felt. They all reminded me of someone I knew in band. Did you draw a lot on real-life incidents when writing? Because I’m pretty sure we had several ant invasions in my band room, too!

SO many real-life incidents! The ant invasion was one of them. My first year teaching, the head band director told all the beginner classes this story about a clarinet student of hers who never cleaned her instrument properly…until one day, when she found maggots in her mouthpiece. I have no idea if that story was true or not, but it definitely encouraged kids to clean their instruments!

There’s bits and pieces of my own band experiences throughout the whole series. Book two includes a fundraiser bake sale – I can’t even count how many of those I’ve done. In book three, the kids take a trip to New Orleans, only to have their bus break down in the middle of nowhere – a variation on my senior band trip, when our buses were caught in a snowstorm in the Rocky Mountains! (Which, of course, only made the trip more epic.)

Honestly, every scene brought back tons of memories of rehearsals, football games, performance anxiety, the thrill of winning a competition, the anxiety of auditioning for all-region band (which was the bane of my musical existence back then)…it was unbelievably fun to be able to relive all of that while working on these books.

I’m legitimately having band flashbacks right now. Although our bus never broke down and we usually sold candy bars instead of holding bake sales. Still, I can’t wait to dive back into the series when it comes out next year. Without giving too much away, can you tell us a little bit more about books 2 and 3? (And maybe even 4?)

Candy bars, poinsettias, car washes…I think I’ve probably done every school fundraiser known to man!

Book two (FRIENDS, FUGUES, AND FORTUNE COOKIES) comes out January 9th, along with book one! Holly tries to help the brass section win the band’s bake sale fundraiser competition while dealing with scary all-region tryouts and the prospect of asking someone to the winter dance. Book three (SLEEPOVERS, SOLOS, AND SHEET MUSIC) is out May 15th. This one’s all about band trip drama–fights, breakups, and new crushes develop while Holly and her friends are in New Orleans. Book four (CRUSHES, CODAS, AND CORSAGES) is out in the fall. Holly prepares for a huge band competition, the district’s science fair, the spring dance…and her possible-maybe new crush on a certain comic book artist!

Sleepovers, Solos, and Sheet Music

That makes me ridiculously happy! I’m so excited to have all four (and maybe more?) glitter-tastic books on my shelf next year. I have a few quick “this-or-that” questions for any and all band nerds who might be reading this (answer however you see fit!):

Treble or Bass? Bass!

Football games or Basketball games? Basketball. (After my Texas high school/college experience, I’ve had enough football for a lifetime.)

Tuba or Euphonium? Tuba!

Bass Clarinet or Oboe? Bass clarinet! (When I try to play the oboe, I feel like my head is going to explode.)

Timpani or Snare? Snare! (That’s what I played in high school drumline.)

Crescendo or Pianissimo? Pianissimo! (Never underestimate the power of super-soft!)

There you have it: crescendo sucks! (Just kidding!) 

And I encourage everyone – former band geek or not – to check out Michelle’s wonderful books. Seriously, I have been waiting years for a great band geek story, and I’m so glad to have finally found it! Even if it did remind me of how gross spit valves are. And besides that – awesome covers! (Plus, they have glitter! Everyone at work knows I’m a sucker for glitter.)


Filed under Book Recs, Books, Interview, Writing

Books, Books, Books

I’ll go several weeks without finishing a book and then I’ll finish several at once. Mostly this is due to audiobooks and timing and whatnot, but here’s what I’ve been reading recently:

  1. Au Revoir, Crazy European Chick by Joe Schreiber (I spelled his name right on the first try!), read by Joe Jameson … I knew this would be a lot of fun going into it. When I’m reading audiobooks, they either have to be thrillers or practically slapstick or I’ll find my mind drifting. My mind didn’t drift while I was listening to this. Also, I really liked the way the author used college admissions essay questions as epigraphs.
  2. Doll Bones by Holly Black, read by Nick Podehl … I’m about halfway through this one now and I have no idea where it’s going. Which is very refreshing in a middle grade. It’s also pretty creepy, which you’d expect from Holly Black.
  3. Sure Signs of Crazy by Karen Harrington … This one I’m reading in paper form! I’m almost at the end. This book has also had me guessing. Every time I assume something is going to happen because of some trope or another, it doesn’t. It’s also got a really strong voice!

That’s it. Feel free to share anything you’ve been reading, as long as you are not a spambot. Okay, spambots, you can share what you’re reading too, as long as it’s not diet tips.

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